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Natural Sciences Education Abstract - Articles

Discipline Continuity across Undergraduate and Graduate Degrees


This article in NSE

  1. Vol. 42 No. 1, p. 131-136
    Received: May 28, 2013
    Published: October 22, 2013

    * Corresponding author(s): ccopenhe@vt.edu
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  1. Carolyn A. Copenheaver *a,
  2. John A. Petersona and
  3. Kyrille Goldbeck DeBoseb
  1. a Dep. of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061
    b University Libraries, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061


In order to identify patterns in discipline continuity across undergraduate and graduate degrees, we compared 989 tenure-track faculty members at 10 American land-grant universities to identify whether educational discipline continuity varied by academic discipline or faculty rank. Educational pathway varied significantly by discipline (χ2 = 361, P = 0.00) with a majority of chemistry (90%), philosophy (82%), and dairy science (79%) faculty earning all of their undergraduate and graduate degrees within their own discipline. Earning all degrees in a single discipline was less common among faculty in chemical engineering (65%), forestry (39%), and management (24%). Educational pathways also varied significantly by faculty rank (χ2 = 26, P = 0.00): 71% of professors earned all degrees in the same discipline as their faculty department, but only 61% of associate professors and 55% of assistant professors earned all their degrees in the same discipline as their academic department. This pattern may reflect the higher value currently placed on hiring new faculty based on their ability to successfully receive external grant funding rather than hiring faculty to fit departmental teaching needs, or it may reflect a lower tenure success for faculty members educated in disciplines outside of their departmental home.

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